The NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, more commonly referred to as the NCAA Tournament or March Madness, occurs in basketball arenas and domed football stadiums spread throughout the country. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected this to a significant degree.
Where is the NCAA Tournament in 2021?
The NCAA wanted to limit the extensive travel normally so common in this college basketball event. For example, consider this extreme example.
The Maryland Terrapins traveled 2,400 miles to Boise, Idaho, to play the George Mason Patriots in the first round of the 2001 edition. The George Mason University campus is in Fairfax, Va., 25 miles from Maryland.
After winning twice in Boise, a 900-mile trip to Anaheim, Calif., was on the cards. There, Maryland secured two more wins and an all-expenses-paid flight to Minneapolis, 1,900 miles from Disneyland and 1,100 from its campus.
None of that will happen this year.
On Jan. 3, the NCAA announced that it would be condensing its 2021 tournament sites from its original plan of coast to coast – Providence, R.I., to San Jose, Calif. This ensures teams won’t travel over two hours to get from one NCAA Tournament site to another.
The basketball-crazed state of Indiana will host every game, from the First Four on the Big Ten campuses of Indiana and Purdue in Bloomington and West Lafayette to the Final Four in Indianapolis’ cavernous Lucas Oil Stadium, which doubles as the home of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts. The last time the national championship game was played here, in 2015, 71,149 fans watched Duke outlast Wisconsin, 68-63.
Lucas Oil Stadium will host the Final Four this year. The only change related to the Final Four itself is the smaller crowds that will attend those three games.
Family members of players and coaches will attend all NCAA Tournament games. The number of fans who will be in these venues is unknown.
This year, other Indianapolis-based venues that will host March Madness games include Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the NBA’s Indiana Pacers’ home. Also, Hinkle Fieldhouse, home to the Butler Bulldogs since 1928. The Indiana Farmers Coliseum, where the Pacers played from 1967 to 74.
When Are March Madness Games in 2021?
This college basketball event is slated to start at 4 p.m. EDT on March 18 with the First Four commencement. This is two days later than had been initially scheduled. The first and second rounds – the rounds of 64 and 32 – will occur from March 19-22, one day later than the original time span for those contests.
The Sweet 16 teams that are still alive in the March Madness brackets filled out across the country will recommend a play on March 27 or 28, while the Final Four teams will be decided in a quartet of highly anticipated games on March 29 and 30. This set of contests will be played two days later than had been initially scheduled.
The Final Four itself will still be played on its scheduled initial dates of April 3 and 5.
One difference to note is that all eight of the Sweet 16 games will have their broadcast windows. In previous years, two were played simultaneously in four different time slots.
Of course, prior to all of that, we need to find out who is in the field and what their paths to the Final Four will look like. That will all be revealed during the bracket’s unveiling on Selection Sunday, which will occur at 6 p.m. on March 14 and be broadcast on CBS.
Note that there will be just 31 conference tournament champions earning automatic bids this season instead of 32 as the Ivy League opted out of the 2020-21 season. They will be joined by 37 at-large teams, an increase on the usual 36 at-large squads.
Although teams will still be seeded within each quartet of the bracket from No. 1 to No. 16, other aspects of the seeding process will change for 2021.
First, some background. The committee seeding teams will attempt to use an S-curve, meaning that the national No. 5 seed – one of the regional No. 2 seeds – will be placed in the same quartet as the national No. 4 seed – one of the regional No. 1 seeds. And the national No. 6 seed will be with the national No. 3 seed and so on. However, this is not possible for several reasons.
Those who select and seed the field have teams such as conference champions and regional Nos. 1-4 seeds remain within their geographic region whenever possible.
For example, if presumptive WCC champion Gonzaga, based in Spokane, Wash., is deemed to receive a regional No. 2 seed – i.e., a national seed of between Nos. 5-8 – the Bulldogs would go to the West Region with little hesitation if no other West Coast teams are amongst those four. This would be the predominant factor over any S-curve considerations.
This is one change in 2021, as geography is no longer relevant with all 68 teams playing in or around Indianapolis.
However, some other factors that would affect adopting a true S-curve will still be in play in 2021.
Top teams from premier conferences will be on different quartets, and conference foes who played each other three or more times in the regular season will be kept apart until at least the Elite Eight.
Conference opponents who played twice will not meet until no earlier than the Sweet 16. All rematches of regular-season meetings will be avoided in the First Four and First Round when possible.
How Can I Watch the NCAA Basketball Tournament?
Now that you know when the March Madness dates for this year, you likely want to find out how you can watch all these NCAA Basketball Tournament games.
CBS, TBS, TNT, and truTV will continue to broadcast every game in its entirety to national audiences.
The Final Four rotates between CBS and TBS, with the former network broadcasting it in odd years. It means this year’s national semifinals and title tilt will be available to watch on network television.
Those channels will split the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight coverage, joined by TNT and truTV for the first and second rounds. TBS and truTV will broadcast the First Four contests.
Those who want to watch online can do so via NCAA March Madness Live as long as they have an affiliated TV service provider.
How Will the NCAA Basketball Tournament Be Safe in 2021?
To keep the players, coaches, administrators, and officials safe, the NCAA will oversee extensive COVID-19 testing and controlled environments.
The national body has partnered with the Marion County Health Department – Marion County is where Indianapolis is located – with the latter organization providing approved medical protocols. They will also communicate with each other up to and throughout the March Madness dates.
The teams will stay on dedicated floors in hotels in the Indianapolis area and have access to dining and meeting rooms that allow for plenty of social distancing. The NCAA will provide secure transportation to the traveling parties. Practices will be at the Indiana Convention Center, home to several courts.
COVID-19 testing will also take place before each game that a team plays.
The intent is to create as close to the controlled bubble environment that the NBA had used for its 2020 playoffs.
Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s vice president of basketball, said, “we will come incredibly close to that.”